The holy city. The contested city. The faithful city. The city where David camped. The paragon of beauty. The valley of vision.
Jerusalem goes by many beautiful names.
And yet, if you ask any tour guide in town to describe Jerusalem with one word only, they go with something rather trivial.
“If New York is a Big Apple”, they say, preparing for a dramatic effect, “then Jerusalem is.. an Onion”.
An onion. Small, rich in nutrients, sometimes makes you cry, always wrapped in layers. Yep, that’s pretty much how I’d describe Jerusalem myself.
My recent (and first ever) trip to the capital of Israel was super intense. And it’s not even because of those 10000+ activities that were squeezed into my short three-day itinerary, but because of the city itself: so colorful, so vibrant, so rich in texture, so ancient and yet so modern at the same time. If you dive in a bit too quickly, your head will spin. So to prevent you from feeling dizzy, I’ve prepared this mini guide to Jerusalem to show where all the gems are hidden!
Have a look….
Guide to Jerusalem: What to do, eat and see in the holy city
Table of Contents
Things to do in Jerusalem
While Jerusalem isn’t a huuuge city (population: just below 1 million), it has nevertheless a huge amount of things to do (and see, AND eat!).
If you want to take a proper introduction into the story of Jerusalem (aka dig into its deepest layers), start with a Ramparts Walk. There, you’ll get to climb an ancient fortification wall, see Jerusalem from above, and enjoy the little sneak peeks from the angles you’d never see otherwise.
There are two walks to take: the North Side & the South Side Walk. And if you choose the second one, you will most conveniently end up right at the Western Wall, a definite must-see sight in Jerusalem.
Also known as a Wailing Wall, it is, ironically, not the place to wail at all. In fact, it’s quite peaceful and quiet over there. There’s this nice little old lady that gives you extra clothes (in case you don’t have enough of them on haha) and makes sure that you look decent and respectable. Then there’s this shelf (or, rather, shelves) full of prayer books which you can freely take to pray on your own. And then, of course, there’s the wall itself — full of cracks and gaps, which nowadays are meant as a placement for your own prayers (if you feel like leaving one). Twice per year, the prayer notes are collected and buried in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.After a mindful prayer, you might want to head to the City of David — a world-renowned site, famous for both its history and controversy.
In archeological terms, the City of David is the original urban core of ancient Jerusalem — this is where the city was born. In political terms, the City of David is a one-square-kilometre spot that is located in Occupied Palestinian Territory where archeological excavations are often seen as the latest weapon to use against Palestinians that still live there. So yeah, there’s A BIT of this thing called Human Rights Violation going on, which you should be aware of before your visit.
Where (and what) to eat in Jerusalem
Feeling hungry? If so, head to the Mahane Yehuda Shuk — a marketplace which the locals simply refer to as “The Shuk”. Now, the Shuk is where all the colors of Jerusalem are: reds, greens, yellows, and blues, blinding your eyes with all their brightness and vibrancy. The Shuk is where the locals merge with tourists, getting lost along the aisles of fresh fruits, baked goods, and all kinds of spices. The Shuk is the place to be. Plus, when there’s also all the falafel, shawarma, kibbeh, kebab, shashlik, kanafeh, baklava, halva, and zalabiya in the world, who wouldn’t want to be there, I ask?
At night, the Shuk eradiates a different type of energy. Over the recent years, it’s turned into the nightlife centre of Jerusalem, with restaurants, bars, and live music.
Since we touched the whole food topic, it would be wrong not to mention HUMMUS. So now that I mentioned it (haha), here are the two places where you should go for the BEST hummus in town: Ben Sira and Lina.
Ben Sira: Al Khanka Street, Old City, Jerusalem 17392
Lina: Al Khanka Street, Old City, Jerusalem 17392
Israelis also feel very strongly about pita: flat, hollow, slightly leavened bread which you split open to put a filling. Pita and hummus are a match made in heaven. Olives belong there too.
Another must-eat: Israeli bourekas. Known as Börek in Turkey, byurek in Bulgaria, byorek in Armenia, this is essentially a puff pastry filled with various fillings: cheese, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, chickpeas, olives, spinach, eggplant. The most traditional recipe requires bourekas to be served with pickles, boiled eggs, and tahini sauce.
Looking for the baklava in town? Go here:
Shawar Bakery: Christian Quarter Street No 54, Old City, Jerusalem
Looking for the best Israeli food? Check out this place (pricey but good):
Machneyuda: Beit Ya’akov Street 10, Located in the Lamahane Market, Jerusalem
Best drink in Jerusalem?
In the bar just opposite to Machneyuda.
Things to see in Jerusalem
Just a half an hour drive away from Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station lies a small village called Ein Karem. How small? Very small: just two thousand people are living there. But how many tourists visit Ein Karem every year? Three million.
According to the legend, John the Baptist (the one who baptised Jesus Christ himself) was born in Ein Karem, which makes the place so interesting to visit for pilgrims all over the world.
But even if taken out of the religious context, Ein Karem is worth a visit. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place where the rhythm of life is oh so pleasantly languid. Nobody hurries anywhere, everybody has a smile on their faces, there are gorgeous doors everywhere you look, and the whole place is blossoming with flowers. What’s more to ask?
If you ARE hungry for more, though, head to the Masada National Park — the ultimate getaway from Jerusalem. Masada is an ancient fortification located on the top of an isolated rock plateau, which offers the most spectacular overview of the Dead Sea.
Image source: here
Tours in Jerusalem
Free Tour of Jerusalem with New Europe Tours (because it’s free)
Segway Tour with ZU-ZU (because it’s fun)
Food Tour with Bite Mojo (because it’s yummy)
Where to stay?
You will NEVER make a mistake with Abrahams Hostels! They’re located in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Nazareth, offer daily tours to almost everywhere around Israel, have amazing facilities AND amazing prices. Can’t say no to a good deal!
I traveled to Jerusalem as part of the #TBEX crew! Many thanks to iTravelJerusalem for organizing the trip for me — all opinions, views, and recommendations are, as always, my own.